Bravely Running Away…or not

Sir Robin I may or may not be, but I came across this today. It’s an article in Runner’s World about Peter Sagal. First of all, his NPR show- Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me– is one of my favorites. If you’ve never listened to it, do yourself a favor and do so. You won’t regret it. I also learned after I started running that he’s a runner too, and a good one (a Boston qualifier with a good time to boot). What I didn’t know is that he started running for reasons similar to my own, which I’ll get into later (mine aren’t identical, but definitely related). Anyway, it’s a great piece about him, and it reminded me of the one at the end of this post from the Dallas Morning News (also linked here).

I can also relate to Rick’s story, with the compulsive eating of sweets (especially ice cream) and all. I didn’t lose 300 pounds like he did. It was only about 110 in my case from my peak of 260 to my lowest on my 35th birthday (this past June) after a long run when I clocked in at 150. Still, his story really resonates with me, even to the point of experiencing what I guess both he and Peter and so many other dieters speak of, that is, the infamous diet “yo-yo.” Today, as I write this, I weigh much closer to 200 (still under, though, thanks be to God) than I do 150, giving me the unenviable task of dropping back down pretty quickly, hopefully in time for the half marathon I’m supposed to be training to run in a mere 45 days(!)…

So I guess that all brings me to this: as this final link points out, if you know someone (like me) who is struggling to train for a marathon or just to fully integrate a running/fit lifestyle, please ask us how it’s going. Encourage us if you get a chance and help keep us accountable. As you might imagine, it’s damn hard work, in my case requiring me to rise most days around 4 am so that I can get in the required training miles (and I hate running in the dark) before a full day of work, commuting, caring for Samuel and getting him in bed on days when Kirsten is at work, etc. As the article puts it:

So next time you know someone training for a marathon, don’t wait until the big day to congratulate them. Ask how their training is going — which, by the way, is a guaranteed conversation starter with a runner of any distance. Encourage them. Support them. And know that even non-superheroes like you and I can run a marathon.

Likewise, if you know someone who is now dieting or who struggles with weight (like me), ask us how that’s going too. If it’s going well, we’ll be eager to share. If not, though we might be inclined to hide it (until our body won’t allow us to anymore), doing so will only make it worse, and hopefully deep down we know that. In my case, I eat compulsively not only because I like the taste of the poison I pick (though who among us doesn’t at least at some level enjoy our vices?) but in order to mask or dull my pain. Of course, as I was recently reminded, I’ll never learn not to use/abuse food anymore until I learn a little more about that pain.

It’s frustrating and ironic, as after all the years of writing and therapy and cell groups and the like (and now running!) I think I ought to know my own pain pretty well. It’s a well-tread story, right? I grew up in an abusive, though “Christian,” home (my mother was the abuser and you can read all about it here, here, and perhaps especially here). So what gives? What am I still running from (no pun intended)? What is it I still don’t know about myself? Obviously, I’ve faced a lot in my life- from the abusive upbringing to the parent deaths to taking in the surviving parents to Samuel’s birth (and all that surrounded it) to our struggles in OH to uprooting ourselves to get here to TX due to my Dad’s cancer, and on and on the list goes. If I want to be depressed about something, I’ve got plenty to pick from, recognizing always that as a middle class white male in the U.S. I’m among the richest and most privileged people ever to walk the face of the earth. Still, by the grace of God and through various experiences in loving community I’ve been fairly resilient- or better said- I’ve experienced more than my fair share of grace. Sadly, it took writing those words just now for me to realize/remember that (again- that grace is what’s it’s all about). I’ve been hurt a lot, sure, but maybe it’s time to finally stop analyzing and categorizing and quantifying my pain because even if I could quantify it whatever suffering I’ve known will never come close to comparing to the grace I’ve been blessed with. I may not fully “know” that quite yet, but long ago I resolved that I may do no better in the Christian life than to spend it plumbing the depths of God’s great love for me, and it’s time I started living like that again.

In the meantime, I’ll run and swear off the sweets again. I may still be running away from my past and the pain and the fat abused kid who got made fun of in my “Christian” elementary, middle, and high school. But I KNOW that’s what I’m doing and even as I work my ass off to get fit, lose weight, and train for the half marathon, I’m also working damn hard to make a transition to start running toward something too. And eventually maybe I’ll run solely with my face forward rather than constantly peering over my shoulder. Some day I’ll run with head held high as I picture before me the future God has for me and do my best to enjoy the NOW of it all along the way. Until then, if you see me, ask me about my diet and running and encourage me if you feel like it because I sure could use it.

Oh, and I would be greatly remiss if I didn’t mention Back on My Feet. I discovered them about a week ago and have been so excited to connect with them and join up, as this gives me a reason to not just stop looking back and finally face forward as I run, but to finally stop thinking about myself and let God use me to extend to others some of that grace I’ve been so fortunate to receive. If you run or want to or even just care about justice at all, please, please check out Back on My Feet. You’ll be glad you did.

Below is that Dallas Morning News article, which I’ve copied for your perusal since they’ve erected a paywall for much of their content now.

Dallas man loses 300 pounds and keeps it off

Photo: RON HEFLIN/Special Contributor
Rick Salewske has found daily exercise and an almost fervent stance are the keys to maintaining his size.
Text Size

By DARLA ATLAS / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Published 30 November 2010 01:07 AM

Rick Salewske hasn’t tasted ice cream in 10 years.

Until October 2000, the treat had been his favorite source of comfort, and he often overindulged.

“I’d always have ice cream at night,” says Salewske, 48. “Those Nutty Buddy bars – I’d have four of those. Or I’d go to Braum’s, where they have the hot-fudge triple sundae. Sometimes I’d go to the store at midnight just to get my ice cream.”

Back then, Salewske was a different person in mind and body. He weighed 538 pounds and was almost defiant about it: “I’d think, ‘I’m a good person. I love my parents, I don’t do drugs. I support myself. Why do I have to change?’ “It took an intervention of sorts, followed by unwavering dedication, to lose 300 pounds, which he’s kept off for eight years. While his weight has fluctuated by 30 or 40 pounds now and then, Salewske sees himself not only as a weight-loss success story, but a weight-maintenance winner as well.

For Salewske, a production scheduler at ClarkWestern Building Systems in Dallas, going back to his unhealthy self isn’t an option.

“I can’t believe there are people out there who lose 300 pounds and gain it right back,” he says.

He’d be surprised. Maintaining a weight loss – be it 50 or 200 pounds – is a challenge many aren’t up for, says Dr. Edward Livingston, director of the bariatric surgery program at UT-Southwestern Medical Center.

After all the work it takes to lose the pounds, why do people regain?

“One way it happens is that we sort of slide off the wagon slowly,” Livingston says. “One cookie becomes two and then three, and then it’s the whole bag. The other thing I’ve seen happen is that there’s a life event, and the person just gives up and gets depressed.” Salewske, who weighed 538 pounds 10 years ago, was almost defiant about it. ” onclick=”return clickedImage(this);” onmouseover=”’hand'” src=”/sharedcontent/dws/img/v3/11-30-2010.NGD_30RICK1.1.GKI2U1DU6.1.jpg”> Family Photo Salewske, who weighed 538 pounds 10 years ago, was almost defiant about it.

They begin eating – which, unfortunately, helps for a moment.

“Food activates the same pleasure centers in your brain as some drugs do,” he says.

‘The Biggest Loser’

Even losing weight in the limelight doesn’t guarantee keeping it off. At the end of every season of The Biggest Loser, victorious contestants are seen pumping their newly toned arms as confetti falls around them. Check back a year later, and several have ballooned back to their former sizes.

“It’s strictly a willpower issue,” Livingston says. “If you’ve got the willpower, you can do it.”

Salewske has enough of that and then some, but he didn’t in 1981, when he moved from Michigan to Dallas and ate out of loneliness. By the time he drove home for Christmas in 1999, his family was distraught by what he was doing to himself.

“My parents sat me down and told me, ‘Your sisters were crying last night. They think you’re going to die,’ ” he recalls.

By 2000, Salewske had a 66-inch waist and wore 6X shirts. He turned down a job back in Michigan, which he’d landed sight unseen, because of his weight.

The CEO at his job in Texas was grateful he’d turned down the other position, but he was also worried about Salewske’s health.

He said, ‘Rick, I want you to work for me for the next 20 years. But if you don’t lose the weight, you’re not going to be around for 20 years. Go find a program, and we’ll support you,’ ” he recalls.

That led Salewske to the Cooper Aerobics Center, which helped transform his eating and exercise habits. By 2003, he’d lost 300 pounds, was named Cooper’s Man of the Year, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and in People magazine, and married his wife, Kelley, with whom he now has two sons. Success was his.

That success could easily have been fleeting.

“I haven’t been perfect, believe me,” he says of the fluctuations. Earlier this year, for example, he’d started making late-night trips for fast food again, and he’d find himself snacking on the kids’ potato chips.

“I got on the scale in March of this year and weighed 284 pounds, which was probably the heaviest I’ve been since I lost the 300 pounds,” he says. “I go, ‘Man, this has got to stop.’ ”

After quitting the junk food again, he dropped back to 245 pounds. As for exercise, Salewske works it in every day by going to the gym or jogging around his neighborhood.

Salewske takes an almost fervent stance on maintaining his size.

“In our lives, so many things can be taken away from us,” he says. “We could lose our house, our jobs, money in the stock market. If you lose the weight and stay committed and feel good about yourself, nobody can ever take that away from you. Nobody’s going to put that 300 pounds back on you.”

Except, of course, the person who lost it in the first place. To formerly overweight folks like himself, Salewske has some not-so-fun maintenance advice.

“If we’re the type of people that gain 50, 60, 100, 200, 300 pounds, that’s who we are,” he says. “It’s kind of like being an alcoholic. You always have to watch it.”

Ditch the falsehoods

Which means giving up the excuses or little mind games that lead to backsliding. Among them:

•It’s OK to have a cookie here and there.

“I don’t think so,” Salewske says, “because before you know it, it’s been a week, two weeks, and you’ve had a cookie every night. Now you have to break that habit again.”

•Life is too short to deny yourself all of its pleasures.

“I’ve never known anyone who hasn’t lost a lot of weight who isn’t much happier,” Livingston says.

“They feel better and they’re more energetic. So it’s a tradeoff.”

•After the weight-loss goal is reached, it’s fine to have a “cheat meal.” Or a whole cheat day, even.

“If you believe you should have a cheat day, then you believe you need those bad foods to get through,” Salewske says. “That’s just like an alcoholic saying, ‘Hey, I can go three months without drinking, but I deserve one day when I can drink!’ ”

Livingston agrees that “if you cheat once, it’s hard to stop cheating. Your brain just seeks that holiday day.”

•Once the weight is lost through a plan such as the Atkins Diet, it’s fine to gradually go back to normal eating.

Livingston calls such diets – along with contests such as The Biggest Loser – unnatural programs for weight loss. “After a while, you get tired of it and regain the weight. You need to make a lifestyle change you can live with, and live with forever.”

•Weight-loss surgery prevents people from putting the weight back on.

Wrong, Livingston says. “With bariatric surgery, lots of people are completely unmotivated and think surgery will fix the problem. They gain it back.”

At the other end of the spectrum are weight-loss winners such as Salewske, who work at it every day.

“You get used to saying, ‘You know what? Maybe I can go the rest of my life without ever eating a doughnut,’ ” he says. Or ice cream, even. Salewske is confident that Nutty Buddys and Dove bars are forever part of his past.

“Ice cream was really, really bad for me,” he says, recalling the hold it had on him and his life. “I haven’t had it, and I won’t. And it’s OK. I don’t need it.”

Darla Atlas is a Fort Worth freelance writer.

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